Incumbent: Tom Harkin (D)
4th term (54 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic
By all accounts, a fifth term for Harkin should be far from guaranteed. The chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education has always won relatively close elections.
However, the Republicans have been unable to lure any high-profile challengers into the race. Rep. Tom Latham (R) is among those who have opted not to run.
Should the GOP find a top-tier candidate, and should such an individual be able to raise money to compete with Harkin’s burgeoning war chest, this race could get competitive in a hurry. But time is running out, and unless a star recruit emerges soon, look for Harkin to hang onto his Senate parking space through 2014.
Incumbent: Dave Loebsack (D)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic
Last year, Roll Call’s election preview referred to then-college professor Loebsack as a long shot to defeat longtime incumbent Rep. Jim Leach (R). But nearly one year after now-freshman Rep. Loebsack upset Leach in the Democratic wave of 2006, it’s the Republican nominee — whomever he or she ends up being — who will be the long shot.
Republicans have been unable to recruit a top-flight challenger to take on Loebsack in this solidly Democratic district. Even if they do, Loebsack is likely to win a second term given the political makeup of the Cedar Rapids-based district and the fact that it is a presidential cycle. Leach hung on there for years based on his personal appeal and nonpartisan style.
At this point, opthamologist Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R), a former president of the Iowa Medical Society, is preparing to run against Loebsack. Retired Major League Baseball pitcher Cal Eldred (R) also is reportedly thinking about running.
Incumbent: Pat Roberts (R)
2nd term (83 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican
Roberts could be the most popular Republican in Kansas. And that counts for something in a GOP-leaning state that has otherwise exhibited its independence over the past decade by electing Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) twice and sending two Democrats to Congress in the Republican-tilting 2nd and 3rd districts.
Right now Democrats are still searching for a candidate to take on Roberts who matches Sebelius’ broad appeal.
If Democrats can find someone who comes close, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is likely to have enough of a financial advantage over the National Republican Senatorial Committee that they would be able to afford to substantially invest in Kansas’ relatively inexpensive media markets.
Should those two things happen, this race could be competitive. Until Democrats gin up a top-tier challenger, however, Roberts looks to glide to re-election. And his growing campaign bank account means he is prepared for a fight if presented with one. So far, the only possible Democratic candidate mentioned is ex-Rep. Jim Slattery.
Incumbent: Nancy Boyda (D)
1st term (51 percent)
In the previous cycle, Boyda shocked then-Rep. Jim Ryun (R) and won his heavily Republican, Topeka-area district when few people gave her a chance of doing so.
Now the incumbent, Boyda has been working the district hard. She hopes that a blunt, honest style and top-notch constituent services can make up for the fact that she is a poor political and philosophical fit for the socially conservative district.
In the general election, Boyda will face either state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins (R) or Ryun, who has been campaigning since January to get his old job back.
The knock on Ryun was that he relied on his celebrity as a local-boy-made-good Olympic track star, never worked that hard and took his seat for granted. But since Ryun launched his 2008 campaign, he has worked relentlessly to reverse that image. Also, Ryun has proved since jumping into this cycle’s race to be an able fundraiser and a tireless campaigner.
Jenkins last year was re-elected state treasurer and cuts the figure of a successful politician. But she has yet to begin campaigning for the 2nd district full bore — although she is raising money at a healthy clip and presents Ryun with very stiff competition. The Kansas GOP has been wracked by ideological divisions over the past decade, and the primary between Ryun and Jenkins, who is considered more moderate, is just the latest example. A potentially bloody primary could work to Boyda’s advantage a year from now.
Incumbent: Dennis Moore (D)
5th term (65 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic
This suburban Kansas City district leans Republican.
But Moore has held it for 10 years in part because in successive cycles moderate and conservative Republicans have refused to put aside their long-standing feud and unite behind their party’s nominee. Moore also has held this seat because he has successfully played the role of moderate Democrat and independent problem-solver who puts getting things done above partisan politics.
Republicans are hoping that changes this cycle. Moore is now a part of the majority party and could be forced to take tough votes that go against the political grain of his district.
He is set to face state Sen. Nick Jordan (R) in the general election, and Jordan could be the first Republican nominee in a dozen years who unites the conservative and moderate wings of the 3rd district’s GOP. Jordan is based in Johnson County, exactly where this race is likely to be won or lost.
If Jordan can bring both factions together, as Republican officials in Kansas and at the National Republican Congressional Committee claim he will, Moore might face a tough challenge just when the GOP was beginning to accept the fact that he was untouchable.
Incumbent: Sam Graves (R)
4th term (62 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican
Democrats are hoping to give Graves his first real challenge as an incumbent next year with Kay Barnes (D), the popular former two-term Kansas City mayor.
So far, Barnes appears to be living up to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s expectations. An EMILY’s List candidate, Barnes raised more than $650,000 in five months, finishing up this year’s third-quarter fundraising cycle with nearly $580,000 in cash on hand.
But Barnes will need to keep up her brisk fundraising clip, and then some, if she expects to remain competitive. Graves raised more than $500,000 in the third quarter and ended up with more than $750,000 on hand.
Although President Bush carried the district with 57 percent of the vote in 2004, Democrat Pat Danner held the seat for four terms before Graves. Since then, Graves, a farmer, has shown himself a good fit for the heavily agricultural district, which also takes in northern Kansas City suburbs.
Barnes, too, has roots in the more rural part of the district, but expect Graves to try to align her with Democrats in Washington, D.C. —
particularly if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is on the top of the ticket — and portray her as a big-city liberal who’s soft on issues like immigration. Short of another Democratic wave, though, she’ll have to work overtime, particularly in the district’s vast rural areas, against a well-funded campaign led by notorious political pit bull Jeff Roe.
Filing deadline: Feb. 15 for incumbents, March 3 for non-incumbents
Primary: May 13
Open seat: Chuck Hagel (R) is retiring
Outlook: Likely Republican
With former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) deciding not to run for his old job, Hagel’s seat looks much more secure for the Republicans than it would have otherwise. Nebraska is overwhelmingly Republican, but voters there often warm to moderate Democrats — such as Sen. Ben Nelson (D) — and Kerrey automatically would have put this race in tossup status.
Now, it appears Democrats will turn to Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey or 2006 3rd district nominee Scott Kleeb to run. And while both have the qualities it takes to succeed politically, winning a GOP state like Nebraska in a presidential year looks like too much to ask of them — especially when the eventual Democratic nominee will face one of two formidable candidates running in the GOP primary: former Gov. Mike Johanns and state Attorney General Jon Bruning.
With Kerrey out of the way, the winner of the GOP primary is likely to win the general election, similarly to how Gov. Dave Heineman glided to victory in the 2006 gubernatorial general election after winning a tough GOP primary over then-Rep. Tom Osborne.
For this reason, the GOP Senate primary could get just as heated as the 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary.
Johanns, who resigned as Agriculture secretary and jumped into the Senate race in mid-October, is the favorite of the Republican establishment. His record in Nebraska elections, from the local level on up to his gubernatorial victories, is 12 -0, including primaries (some of them competitive).
Bruning is young — 38 years old — and brash. He was prepared to challenge Hagel for the Republican nomination and he seems unfazed by the fact that most of the national Republican establishment is cheering for Johanns.
As the candidates tend to agree on most issues of importance to GOP primary voters, look for this race to be fought over illegal immigration. The candidates basically agree on this issue now. But Johanns supported President Bush’s plan while he was a member of the cabinet, and Bruning is attempting to use this against the former governor.
Both candidates claim the campaign won’t get personal. However, with so much at stake, don’t bet against it getting just as nasty as last year’s GOP gubernatorial primary. Incidentally, Bruning supported Osborne in that race, while Heineman already has come out for Johanns.
Incumbent: Adrian Smith (R)
1st term (55 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican
As the lone freshman in the Cornhusker State’s all-Republican House delegation, Smith would be the most likely target if the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee can coax a serious Democratic candidate or 2006 nominee Scott Kleeb (D) into the race.
Even if this did happen, however, Smith’s overwhelmingly Republican seat would likely remain safe for the GOP. In the Democratic wave of 2006, Smith beat Kleeb by 10 points, and things aren’t likely to get any easier for Democrats in a presidential year in solidly Republican Nebraska.
North Dakota votes overwhelmingly Republican when choosing a president and selecting its state government representatives. But Democrats continue to hold the advantage in Congressional races, controlling both Senate seats and the state’s lone House seat.
With the National Republican Congressional Committee short on cash this cycle and the Republicans without a top-tier challenger, Pomeroy is a shoo-in for a ninth term — at least at this point.
Currently, businessman and retired Navy officer Duane Sand is the only Republican known to be interested in challenging the well-liked Pomeroy. Sand was the GOP nominee in 2004 and also ran for Senate in 2000.
Filing deadline: March 25
Primary: June 3
Runoff: June 17
Incumbent: Tim Johnson (D)
2nd term (50 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic
As long as Johnson sticks to his pledge to run for re-election and Republicans fail to recruit popular Gov. Mike Rounds into the race, chock up another seat the GOP should be able to challenge for but won’t.
Johnson, who is now 60, suffered a brain aneurysm on Dec. 13 and until mid-August his questionable health put his political future in doubt. But the Senator returned to Capitol Hill after Labor Day for the first time since falling ill, and he announced in late October that he definitely is running for re-election.
With the help of surrogates, Johnson continued to raise campaign cash even when he was absent from the Senate, and he appeared to benefit politically from his illness, in that it engendered voter sympathy and discouraged Republicans from attacking him.
Rounds has declined to rule out challenging Johnson, but he is known to be risk-averse, and at this point it appears that Johnson will have an easier time than he did in 2002, when he beat John Thune (R) by 524 votes.
If Johnson’s health takes a sudden turn for the worse and he does retire, most people who follow South Dakota politics believe the politically formidable Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) will run to succeed him.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Joel Dykstra (R) and businessman and GOP outsider Sam Kephart have launched upstart campaigns against Johnson. Regardless of who emerges from the Republican primary, Johnson does not look to be threatened.
After winning close the first time, Herseth Sandlin appears to have solidified herself in the Mount Rushmore State. She is even talked up as a near-unbeatable Senate candidate in 2008 should Sen. Tim Johnson (D) change his mind about seeking re-election and retire.
But 2008 is a presidential year, and South Dakotans tend to vote overwhelmingly Republican for president. Should one of the top-tier Republicans considering a bid actually jump in, the GOP might have a fighting chance of making this race interesting. If none decide to run, however, it’s all over but the voting.
Those top Republicans considering a bid include Larry Russell, a former campaign aide to Sen. John Thune (R), and state Reps. Deb Peters and Shantel Krebs.
If Herseth Sandlin did vacate her seat to run for an open Senate slot, Sioux Falls attorney Brendan Johnson, the son of Sen. Johnson, probably would be at the top of Democrats’ wish list to succeed her. State Senate Minority Leader Scott Heidepriem, a former Republican, also is mentioned as a possible Democratic House candidate.
The Republican field could also grow in an open-seat scenario.